The basics of this novel are this: The Empress Alexandra, a ship, suddenly sinks in the middle of the ocean, leaving most of the passengers dead with just a few in lifeboats. Grace Winter is 22, newly married, and in a lifeboat with 37 other people. A power struggle on the boat between Mr. Hardie--a crewman from the ship--and Mrs. Grant and Hannah, two of the women on the lifeboat, takes an ugly turn as days go by with no rescue appearing on the horizon. Grace, Mrs. Grant, and Hannah begin this book on trial for their lives. On trial for what, you may ask?
You have to read the book to find out. But it's not too hard to figure out what will happen. There are 38 people in a lifeboat, very little food or water, and the lifeboat is taking on water. This story is a prime example of those themes we learned about in literature class our freshmen year of high school: man vs. nature, man vs. self, man vs. man. They are all swirling about in this novel. What would you do if you were in this situation? Are you one of the weak, or one of the strong? Are you a leader or a follower? Are you strong enough to sacrifice yourself to save others, or is it cowardly to want to survive at all costs and let others die?
Grace is an interesting character, and we see the whole story through her eyes. She's someone you can examine from many different angles, but never get quite a grip on who she is: a helpless victim, a strong survivor, or someone who goes with whatever happens. She leaves many questions unanswered.
I did enjoy the book, but not immensely. I was not surprised by any of what happened. Maybe I've read too many "stuck in a life and death situation" books to have been surprised or amazed by what these characters did or did not do to survive. World War I had just started; this novel puts all those issues into a little lifeboat and stirs the pot. It's safe to say that there will always be those who sacrifice, those who lead, and those who will sit by and do nothing.
This is certainly a book that will invite much discussion at a book club or even a classroom. I guess I was underwhelmed by it all, but I can certainly see others being compelled to discuss the plot and characters. I'm glad I read it, if anything because it made me think about what I think I would do in this situation. I really don't know--would I be a sheep, or a leader? Would I jump over the side and put myself out of misery, or fight til the end?
Rating: 6/10. Grace is one of many characters that you will want to discuss with others; I found the plot to be predictable and wasn't surprised by the actions of the lifeboat people.
Available in hardcover, paperback, and as an e-book.